These SUVs can thrive in severe weather, and they're also ideal for outdoorsy families living in warmer climates - all for under $50,000
After suffering a sizzling summer, much of the U.S. can expect the proverbial big chill this winter. Or so says the "Old Farmer's Almanac," with the 2013 edition predicting much colder temperatures from Texas to the Dakotas eastward, while the Great Salt Lake and the areas from El Paso, Texas, to Detroit to Virginia Beach, Va., should brace for heavy snowfall.
There's little Mother Nature can dish out that an old-school body-on-frame sport-utility vehicle with low-range four-wheel-drive can't handle. Car-based crossovers in recent years have grown in popularity, so SUVs may be a dwindling segment, but it remains a purposeful one. When properly equipped, a traditional truck-based SUV delivers substantial towing power, unmatched off-road prowess and the ability to plow through snowdrifts or deep mud ruts effortlessly.
Note that a few recent models hedge their bets by keeping a tire planted in both SUV and crossover categories. The Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Land Rover LR4 and Jeep Grand Cherokee are built using a car-like "unibody" structure, but add a reinforced subframe and advanced traction management systems that give them added off-road abilities.
Nonetheless, here's a quick look at the toughest traditional truck-based SUVs priced under $50,000 that are ideal for adventurous families in both cold- and warm-weather climates.
• Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon. These mechanically related full-size SUVs are roomy and comfortable. Both have a 5.3-liter 320-horsepower V8 engine that delivers good acceleration and towing abilities, even when carrying a full load of passengers and cargo. Both afford a smooth ride and are easier to handle than their sheer bulk might otherwise indicate. Fuel-saving (though costly) hybrid versions are also available.
• Chevrolet Suburban/GMC Yukon XL. These are essentially longer versions of the above Tahoe and Yukon with added cargo space, more third-row seat legroom and a stronger 6.0-liter V8 available.
• Ford Expedition. This mammoth full-size SUV excels equally at towing a large boat or trailer or transporting the family to Grandma's house for the holidays. A 5.4-liter 310-horsepower V8 engine affords adequate acceleration, and while the Expedition's suspension delivers a smooth (sometimes bouncy) ride, it can be difficult to parallel park.
• Jeep Wrangler. The descendant of the original military Jeep comes in soft- and hard-top, two- and four-door versions and is virtually unmatched off-road, but lacks on-road refinement. Its 3.6-liter V6 engine delivers a lively 285 horsepower and can be fitted to a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The interior is well-finished, but it's cramped inside.
• Nissan Armada. While this full-size SUV is attractively styled, it's cumbersome to maneuver, especially around town. It can seat up to eight passengers, with many luxury features. A 5.6-liter V8 engine produces a strong 317 horsepower with an impressive 9,000-pound towing capacity, but delivers meager fuel economy.
• Nissan Xterra. This affordable, yet unadorned five-passenger SUV packs a 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 engine. While off-road capable with 4WD - especially in the sporty PRO-4X version - the vehicle's ride can get jarring over irregular surfaces.
• Toyota 4Runner. Toyota's truck-based midsize SUV remains rugged and durable for towing and serious off-roading. Its ride and handling qualities are better than average and the 4Runner is sufficiently powerful with a 270-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 engine. A roomy and reasonably comfortable interior seats up to seven passengers. Options include Toyota's Entune multimedia system.
• Toyota FJ Cruiser. Toyota's back-to-basics SUV carries a throwback exterior design and comes decently powered by a 260-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 with a choice of a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic. Built for a youthful audience, it rides roughly and offers only a slim selection of convenience features.
• Toyota Sequoia. Toyota's full-size SUV delivers well-mannered ride and handling characteristics and superior towing abilities. A 5.7-liter 381-horsepower V8 engine is ideally suited to heavier-duty use. It's roomy and comfortable and can be fitted with a wide array of features including a Blu-Ray DVD system.
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